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WOTC 2022 Panel: Allyship Is A Universal Attitude

C.J. Fairfield

“For me, an ally means I‘m speaking in rooms that you haven’t been invited into yet. In order for me to do that, I have to feel comfortable that you’re comfortable with taking feedback as well as giving feedback.”– Larry Gilreath II, worldwide system integrators solutions architecture for AWS.


Establishing Alliances

Allyship is a two-way street, said Brian Boche, partner management solution architect for AWS.

“It’s about speaking up and standing up for what you need and what you need to be successful,” he said.

Boche moderated a panel on the importance of allyship at CRN parent company The Channel Company’s Women of the Channel West event last week in Carlsbad, Calif.

The panel consisted of Sarah Duffy, general manager for Slalom; Larry Gilreath II, worldwide system integrators solutions architecture for AWS; and Rima Olinger, managing director of North America partners for AWS.

“The macro aggressions, the micro aggressions and the biases – if men don‘t know what they are, how do they avoid them?” Boche said. “It’s simple flat-out education. Something we also teach men is that you‘re not an ally until you’re recognized as one. If one woman recognizes you as an ally, that doesn’t mean you‘re an ally to the entire team. It just means that that person is recognized.”

Gilreath said to be a good ally, he needs to know your track record so he can stand up and “spout data about how amazing you are.”

He also needs to see the activism in an ally relationship. He wants to see you coming to him and asking questions, asking for advice.

“I want to know that if you require some additional coaching, you‘re going to be receptive to it,” he said.

Through their own personal experiences, here are some tips on allyship, why it’s important and how to be a good ally to your peers.

Allies Help When There Is Bias

As a business leader Olinger interacts on a regular basis with an engineering team that is 99.99 percent male, she said.

“I had a great working relationship until there was a new leadership change,” she said. “I was so excited, and I go and try to build a relationship with a new leader. Needless to say, my efforts were not matched with the same enthusiasm at all.”

Olinger said she experienced two biases. The first was affinity bias because she wasn’t a “middle-aged white male who loved hunting.” The second type of bias was attribution bias.

“My efforts, because I was a female, were always undermined and my mistakes were overvalued,” she said. “Then we went head-to-head when I realized that the business was in trouble if we did not shift the engineering in a specific direction. I went to the leader and said, ‘We have an issue,’ and I was again marginalized and dismissed.”

To address the issue, she wrote up a document outlining the issues and suggesting solutions. She then went to senior leadership to raise the red flag. She had more men who tried to stop her, she said, but then her manager, a white male, stood up for her.

“He helped me in two ways,” she said. “He became my ally. He ensured the meeting took place and he ensured that that aggression that was directed towards me was not about passion, but about facts and numbers.”

The result of the meeting was that she always had a seat at the table.

“If it wasn‘t for my ally who stood up for me, to remove the roadblocks for me, I would have not been seen as a whole for my contribution, I would have been marginalized,” she said.

How To Build A Culture Of Allyship Among Your Team

Gilreath said many teams view themselves as an ally because they hired one ally at a higher level.

“They hired one of them, done!” he said. “The reality is hiring a woman just barely opens up the opportunity for you to now build a culture within your team, to allow her to feel comfortable to instruct people and to start to shape the team dynamic.”

At AWS, he said if a team member has a great idea, they have to write a two-to-six-page narrative of the idea, but they never put their name on the document. That way, colleagues who read it can’t use their inherent biases based off who wrote it. They only see the idea and can provide unbiased feedback.

“Why does that matter for me wanting to be an ally? When you‘re an ally you’re going to spend some political power,” he said. “For me, an ally means I‘m speaking in rooms that you haven’t been invited into yet. In order for me to do that, I have to feel comfortable that you’re comfortable with taking feedback as well as giving feedback.”

He said if that person comes to him and says they’re struggling, he has to know that they spent “some political capital.” And if they did, he will make sure they’re successful.

To develop that culture, he said find a voice among the team that you may not hear all the time.

“That voice may not be asking them to stand up in a meeting or speak up in a meeting, it may be using the tool where they can provide feedback,” he said. “It may be using a narrative where they can convey a great idea or business idea they have without being able to stand up and do it with PowerPoint slides.”

Women Are Powerful Allies In The Workplace

Duffy had a community of women who organically included her when she “didn‘t necessarily deserve it or ask for it.”

“I was working as a management consultant in Bogota, Colombia, for a couple of years in an industry that was less than 10 percent women,” she said. “What I found there was a community of women who accepted each other automatically. From the administrative assistant up to the highest-level person, these women were pulled in and supported each other in this community.”

Duffy was to give a presentation and she had the women around her coach and prepare her. When it was time for another woman to be considered for a promotion, the women rallied around her and encouraged her, making sure she was ready to go for that position.

“What I realized in all of that was the intensity of being included,” she said. “That feeling really is a feeling that breeds confidence. The other thing that I learned is that we don‘t have to wait for the programs. We can be the change that we want to see, and that was just a very moving moment for me. It was a community of women, not just a single woman.”

How To Be The Best Ally You Can Be

Allyship is universal attitude, Olinger said.

“It should not be done because you are going to receive a personal benefit. It should not necessarily be done because the individual is reporting to you,” she said. “If you are a leader and you see something that is happening that is wrong around you and you stand up for it, that is what allyship is.”

Allyship also pays you back in multiple ways, she said. If you empower one, you empowered many. If someone stands up for you, you’re going to stand up for someone else and then they’re going to stand up for someone else.

Allyship is also ageless and colorless. It can happen anywhere, any place, at any company, Olinger said.

And make sure that the woman’s voice is always heard.

“If you walk into a conference room, the majority of the men tend to sit in the middle or in the front,” she said. “The women tend to sit on the edges. Be a leader and show them by example. Sit in the front, sit in the middle so that they could see that they could do it too. If in the meeting a woman has been interrupted, feel free to interject and say, ‘Excuse me, I‘d like to hear Jenny’s voice.’”

If an idea of your co-workers is being stolen, feel free to interject again to say it was the co-worker’s idea.

“Stand up for your teammates as such. Make sure that their voices are heard,” she said.

Secondly, celebrate a woman‘s successes. Oftentimes when women are being congratulated on their successes, they say it was the team that helped.

“When a man is celebrating their success, they attribute it to the innate skill set,” she said. “Our accomplishments will go unnoticed if we do not own it.”

If there is a success, she said it’s important to celebrate your team if they helped, but also celebrate your own.

Another tip is to always provide direct, honest and timely feedback to women. Women usually don‘t get direct feedback, she said.

“The reason women do not receive direct feedback from males is because sometimes the male is worried about the emotional response,” Olinger said. “What needs to happen is we need to constantly provide feedback to our friends and co-workers and make sure that it is timely and on the spot.”

Say Her Name In The Room

“This is where we can enact our leverage, our power, our leadership, our position, our knowledge, in the benefit of someone else,” Duffy said. “You don‘t have to wait for someone to ask.”

Duffy makes it her business to find out how people are performing, what they‘re doing, what their desires are, and where they want to go.

“I‘m the boss and I say her name in the room,” she said. “I make it my business and not her responsibility.”

As an ally, she said it’s important to align proactively with the people that you know need their name spoken in the room and need to be advocated for in terms of their skills.

It’s also important to use your skills to help other people.

“It‘s really important for us to understand the specific skills that we have,” she said. “Part of allyship is making sure we use those and proactively pursue the way that we can help others and uplift others with our skills.”